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Sniffer dogs show 88% accuracy in detecting Covid: UK study

London, May 29:  Sniffer dogs can help prevent the spread of Coronavirus by detecting SARS-CoV2, the virus behind Covid-19, according to a study, which found that the canines can be 88 per cent accurate in sniffing the virus, the media reported.

The study, involving scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, believe the dog screening, followed by swab testing, will pick up 91 per cent of infections, the BBC reported on Monday.

While even the quickest Covid tests take 15 minutes to show a result, the dogs can sniff out the disease in seconds. This means that two dogs can together screen 300 people in half an hour, researchers said.

This could make the sniff test “a suitable method for mass screening”, Prof Logan at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was quoted as saying. Mass screening can be done at airports or at busy train stations to help prevent a super-spreading event.

A canine screening trial to see whether specialist medical sniffer dogs can detect coronavirus in humans began last year, by the charity Medical Detection Dogs, where six dogs were trained to recognise the smell produced by people with Covid-19, but undetectable to the human nose. They were given worn socks, face masks and t-shirts of various materials.

Some of the people in the negative group had common cold viruses, to make sure the dogs were able to distinguish Covid from other respiratory infections. The dogs were able to sniff out the disease even when it was caused by different variants, and when the person had no symptoms or only had very low levels of the virus in their system, the report said.

The results were “further evidence that dogs are one of the most reliable biosensors for detecting the odour of human disease”, Claire Guest, Chief Scientific Officer at charity Medical Detection Dogs, was quoted as saying.

The dogs picked up roughly 88 per cent of positive cases — meaning, for every 100 cases, the dogs failed to recognise just 12 infected people. But out of 100 people who did not have Covid, the dogs wrongly suggested — via the sniff test — that 14 of them were infected.

The research team thus does not recommend dogs alone to sniff out positive cases, but use them as an additional screening tool alongside more conventional tests.

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